Deuteronomy foretells of a fixed location where the Jewish people would come to serve G‑d in the Holy Temple: “But only to the place which the L‑rd your G‑d shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there. And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes . . .”1

But although we are told that G‑d will choose a place, we aren’t yet told what city this is.

Only later, after King David acquired the city of Jerusalem and built the first Holy Temple, do we learn that Jerusalem is the city that G‑d chose for Himself. As the verses state, “. . . In Jerusalem, the city which I chose for Myself to place My name there,”2 and “. . . In Jerusalem, the city that the L‑rd had chosen to place His Name there out of all the tribes of Israel . . .”3

So how did King David know where to build the Holy Temple?

Originally, the site of the Temple was the threshing floor of Aravnah (Araunah) the Jebusite. When King David sinned by having the Jews counted, G‑d sent a devastating plague that killed 70,000 Jews. As the Destroying Angel approached Jerusalem, G‑d stopped him at Aravnah’s threshing floor. King David saw the angel and immediately confessed his sin to G‑d, at which point G‑d, via the Prophet Gad, commanded him to build an altar on the site. Later, G‑d confirmed to King David that this was indeed the site where the Holy Temple was to be built.

Significance of Jerusalem

But Jerusalem’s significance predates King David. In fact, the Temple Mount has played a major role in history since the very creation of man. To quote Maimonides:

According to accepted tradition, the place on which David and Solomon built the altar, the threshing floor of Aravnah, is the location where Abraham built the altar on which he prepared Isaac for sacrifice. Noah built an altar on that location when he left the ark. It was also [the place] of the altar on which Cain and Abel brought sacrifices. Similarly, Adam, the first man, offered a sacrifice there and was created at that very spot, as our sages said: “Man was created from the place where he would find atonement.”4

The Ambiguous City

This raises the question: If Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were significant places long before King David, why doesn’t the verse in Deuteronomy name Jerusalem explicitly?

Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed explains:

Note this strange fact. I do not doubt that the spot that Abraham chose in his prophetic spirit was known to Moses our Teacher, and to others: for Abraham commanded his children that on this place a house of worship should be built. Thus, the Targum says distinctly, “And Abraham worshipped and prayed there in that place, and said before G‑d, ‘Here shall coming generations worship the Lord.’5

For three practical reasons, the name of the place is not distinctly stated in the Law, but indicated in the phrase “To the place which the L‑rd will choose.”6 First, if the nations had learned that this place was to be the center of the highest religious truths, they would occupy it or fight about it most perseveringly.

Secondly, those who were then in possession of it might destroy and ruin the place with all their might. Thirdly, and chiefly, every one of the Twelve Tribes would desire to have this place in its borders and under its control; this would lead to divisions and discord, such as were caused by the desire for the priesthood. Therefore, it was commanded that the Temple should not be built before the election of a king who would order its erection, and thus remove the cause of discord.7

Indeed, when it came time for King David to acquire the Temple Mount, not only did he insist on paying for it (despite the fact that it was offered to him by Aravnah the Jebusite for free), but he made sure to collect 50 shekels8 of silver from each one of the tribes (totaling 600 silver shekels9). Thus, although technically in the territory of Benjamin (and Judah), all the tribes had a part in acquiring it.10

The Legend of the Two Brothers

Although we have outlined the significance of Jerusalem, some point to a famous legend about two loving brothers as the ultimate reason why this spot was chosen by G‑d.

The gist of the story is as follows:

Two brothers had each inherited half of their father's farm. One of the brothers was married and had a large family; the other brother was single. They lived on opposite sides of a hill.

One night during harvest time, the single brother tossed about in bed. “How can I rest comfortably and take a full half of the yield, when my brother has so many more mouths to feed?” So he arose, gathered bushels of produce and quietly climbed the hill to bring them over to his brother's barn.

Meanwhile, his brother across the hill also could not sleep. “How can I enjoy my full share of the produce and not be concerned with my brother. He is alone in the world, without a wife or children; who will support him in his old age?” So he arose in the night and quietly brought over bushels of produce to his brother's barn.

When the next morning dawned, each brother was surprised to find that what they had given away had been replenished. They continued these nocturnal treks for many nights. Each morning they were astounded to find that the bushels they had removed had been replenished.

Then one night it happened. The brothers met on the top of the hill during their evening adventure. And there, they embraced.

G‑d looked upon this expression of brotherhood and said, “On this spot of mutual love, I wish to dwell. Here My Holy Temple will be built.”

Although it is indeed a very moving and inspiring story,11 it does not seem to be found in the Talmud and Midrash and its original source remains unclear.

Why Jerusalem Was Chosen

Now, it was only in the times of Kings David and Solomon that Jerusalem was chosen in the sense that from then on it became forbidden to bring offerings anywhere else in the world.

However, in an in-depth discussion about the chosenness of Jerusalem,12 the Rebbe explains that the events recounted above were not the reason for its sanctity.

Rather, G‑d chose the land of Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular as the place for the Divine Glory to rest—not due to any external reasons, but simply because He wished it to be so. Since it was a special place chosen by G‑d, it thus followed that our forefathers built an altar and brought offerings there.

This sanctity is essential to the spot, and will remain intrinsically linked to His chosen people for all of eternity.